He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not (À la folie… pas du tout)
France (2002) Dir. Laetitia Colombani
They say there are two sides to every story. In this stunning directorial debut from actress and writer Laetitia Colombani this theory is put to the test, demonstrating how it is possible to breathe life into familiar conventions with a simple but ingenious twist in the tale.
Bright eyed and gifted art student Angélique (Audrey Tautou) buys a single pink rose to send to the man who holds her heart to commemorate their first ever meeting. The flower is sent to cardiologist Loïc Le Garrec (Samuel Le Bihan) who receives it with a knowing smile. Unfortunately for Angélique, the handsome doctor is already married to Rachel (Isabelle Carré), a lawyer who is five months pregnant with his child. Regardless Angélique firmly believes that Loïc will leave his wife and they will eventually be together.
This seems to come true when Rachel has a miscarriage after an accident and shortly after walks out on Loïc yet Angélique remains out of the picture. Feeling spurned yet somewhat hopeful Angélique mounts a campaign to ensure Loïc notices her only for it to backfire as Angélique’s mental stability hits a rapidly downward trajectory.
While there is more, much more to say about the plot, my personal rule of not posting spoiler precludes from doing so but what I can say is that Colombani spins the entire story on its head at the half way mark. She does this because up until now everything has been seen from Angélique’s perspective and we have a one sided tale which tentatively echoes Fatal Attraction and other spurned lover melodramas. But by changing the viewpoint to that of Loïc we see a completely different story altogether to corrupt every thought we had prior to this point.
It’s a simple but clever device that makes all the difference in how deeply this film resonates with the audience, and indeed how it elevates it from a by the numbers potboiler to something with a poignant and rather tragic emotional depth. That probably sounds like over selling it a little as a work of immense artistic integrity and prestige deemed for arthouse classics, but one does find themselves heavily invested in the characters beyond a superficial level.
They are, it has to be said, a rather off the peg lot – the kooky young art student, the successful doctor and his equally successful wife, the male best friend of Angélique’s who is in love with her, student doctor David (Clément Sibony) – but it is what Colombani does with them along with the fantastic performances of her cast that make them so rich and absorbing for the audience.
Angélique is naturally a curious character to us. At first she is perky and enthusiastic with a spring in her step that threatens to launch her into the stratosphere, which may explain the lazy and spurious Amelie comparisons some have made against this film (the Tautou connection does not justify this). Having won a chance to show her art at a big show, being the house sitter for a wealthy traveller and being babysitter for her best friend Héloïse (Sophie Guillemin) paints a pleasant picture of Angélique in terms of being responsible and trustworthy.
Where it all goes wrong for her is the story being told here and Colombani, along with co-writer Caroline Thivel, subvert all of the usual tricks and developments with a cheeky but deft hand, which picks up considerable steam in the second half via the misdirection and alternate unfolding of the events. Things are teased about Angélique and one doesn’t want to believe they are true and while some are, some will expose how much attention you have been paying attention to what has gone on before.
Colombani was only 26 when she made this film but it doesn’t show. Her direction suggests a mature discipline and learned understanding of the medium, fusing standard melodrama traits with a keen eye for fresh and creative picture and shot composition. Much of this comes from shooting the same scene from different angles and perspectives but there are no signs that this was too big a task for the arriviste director.
For a film with many dark themes this is a vibrant and colourful bursting with energy and suffused with a distinct French élan that brings an element of conviction to the proceedings that would be lacking had this been a Hollywood production. There is a serious issue at the heart of this tale which again you’ll have to watch to find out what that is, so kudos to Colombani for using this as a means to justify the actions and not create a lurid and farfetched psychological backstory.
Similarly, one feels compelled to applaud Angélique upon seeing the final scene, a slightly fanciful if congruent and bold denouement that allows her to part ways with us while keeping her integrity (for wanting a better term) fully intact.
As you may have suspected, this is Audrey Tautou’s film from start to finish, even when she is not on screen, her presence looms over everything. That is not to undermine the performance of Samuel Le Bihan as Loïc, or the criminally underused Isabelle Carré as his wife, but Tautou owns this. She is on sparkling form as the giddy young girl in love turned bitter sociopath, whose angelic features belie the monster that rages inside. Even as a psycho she is adorable and wholly believable as this superb turn helped her stock rise.
While Audrey Tautou has since gone on to become one of France’s most bankable and reliable actresses for reasons unknown Laetitia Colombani has only directed one more film after He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not. A shame as this film shows she has an interesting and creative voice and the potential to share many more enjoyable moments like these with us
This dark, compelling and wonderfully audacious ride is an example of what modern French cinema really should be all about.